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Commentaires écrits par
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   

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Razorhurst
Razorhurst
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘They called Miss Dymphna Campbell the Angel of Death ..., Feb. 8 2016
This review is from: Razorhurst (Kindle Edition)
... because every man she was with for more than a couple of days wound up dead.’

Sydney, Australia in 1932, provides the setting for ‘Razorhurst’. Straight-edge razors have replaced guns as the weapon of choice, and there’s plenty of blood flowing in the streets of Surry Hills despite an uneasy peace between the rival gangs lead by Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson.

Kelpie is a child of the streets. When her mother died, she was taken in by ‘Old Ma’. When ‘Old Ma’ died, Kelpie took to the streets, desperate to avoid falling into the hands of Welfare. On the streets, Kelpie survives – in part because she can see ghosts. While some of those ghosts help Kelpie, she knows that not all ghosts are helpful. And when Tommy tells her she can find apples in a particular house, perhaps she should have known better. For instead of apples Kelpie finds the corpse of the gangster Jimmy Palmer, with his lover Dymphna Campbell standing over him. Kelpie knows that Dymphna Campbell is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, her most sought-after ‘chromo’ (prostitute). Kelpie doesn’t know that Dymphna can also see ghosts.

The novel covers the events of next twenty-four hours, with Dymphna and Kelpie forming an unlikely alliance as they try to avoid the police as well as Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson. Dymphna is much more than a pretty face, and she’s trying to plot a way through the mess in which she and Kelpie find themselves.

While I enjoyed reading this novel, primarily it was the way in which Ms Larbalestier brought to life Surry Hills (of the 1920s and 1930s) that kept me turning the pages. Surry Hills was dubbed ‘Razorhurst’ by ‘The Truth’ (a now defunct tabloid) in 1928, and the name certainly seemed appropriate. There are plenty of colourful characters in this novel, and Ms Larbalestier acknowledges a number of sources of inspiration for this novel.

This is a violent and gory novel, representing the time and place in which it is set. While it is aimed at YA readers it is well worth reading by those of us no longer able to claim to be young adults.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

A Century of November: A Novel
A Century of November: A Novel
by W. D. Wetherell
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 22.45
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘He judged men and he grew apples and it was a perilous autumn for both.’, Feb. 7 2016
In 1918, Charles Marden is a judge, and an apple grower in Vancouver. The Spanish ‘flu is raging across western Canada, and has claimed Mr Marden’s wife amongst its victims. When Charles Marden receives news that his son has just died, in a battle at the very end of World War One, he sets off for Belgium. Charles Marden wants to find the exact spot where his son was killed.

When Mr Marden arrives in England, he learns that his son left behind a girlfriend, pregnant with his child. Can Charles Marden find the girl as well? The closer he gets to the front lines, the closer he gets to hell. The trenches are still strewn with minds, and still reek of poison gas. And the people he meets along his journey each have their own experiences to share, and demons to avoid.

There is no glorification of war here, no attempt to justify sacrifices in the name of a greater good. Instead, there is a father’s search for a site, a place, where the loss of his son will be easier to understand. Or, perhaps, make some sense. Charles Marden’s journey is difficult both physically and emotionally. How can he make sense of it all? Are there answers?

In fewer than 200 pages, Mr Wetherell has written a powerful novel about life, loss and war. Mr Marden’s journey is challenging and difficult. World War One may have finished, but the world continues on. There is no bright shiny new beginning for most people, just a need to move into an unsettled and unknown future. War is devastating, for individuals, communities and countries.

And Charles Marden? What does his future hold?

I picked this novel up, purely by chance. It took me fewer than three hours to read it. This is one of those short novels that somehow makes its way into memory, and stays there.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd
The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd
by Quentin Beresford
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 41.99
10 used & new from CDN$ 36.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘In Tasmania, state-sponsored development became an ‘obsession’ and a ‘cargo cult.’, Feb. 4 2016
Gunns Ltd was once the largest employer in Tasmania. With a market value of $1 billion, and most of its profits coming from woodchipping, Gunns had expansion plans. Those plans required a pulp mill, which Gunns wanted to locate in the Tamar Valley – a tourist haven and home of many fine wineries. But the pulp mill did not proceed, Gunns collapsed in 2012, and CEO John Gay was arrested for insider trading. What went wrong?

To understand the rise and fall of Gunns, it’s necessary to understand the importance of economic development to Tasmanian politics. And to appreciate Tasmania’s unique position (in terms of representation) in the Australian Commonwealth. Federal elections can be won or lost in Tasmania.

‘Both of these strands of Tasmania –the remnant parochial, insular culture and its authoritarian politics – need to be understood and addressed for Tasmania to progress.’

Since the late nineteenth century, Tasmania has been searching for economic development. During my childhood in Tasmania, the Hydro-Electric Commission (the HEC) was focussed on damming almost every river on the island in the hope that cheap hydroelectricity would bring industry to the island.

But, by the 1970s things were starting to change. Increased environmental awareness was growing in Tasmania. Lake Pedder may have been flooded in 1972, but damming the Franklin River in the 1980s was a much more difficult proposition. And today, over thirty years later, there are many Tasmanians who believe that preventing the damming the Franklin was a tragedy.

This, then, is some of the background to the rise of Gunns. Many Tasmanians believe that increased industry is necessary for Tasmania to thrive. A number of those Tasmanians see the damming of rivers and the destruction of old growth forest as necessary sacrifices to progress. Within the Tasmanian community, it is an issue that polarises and divides communities and families.

By the way, the company Gunns was founded in 1875 by brothers John and Thomas Gunn as J&T Gunn. J&T Gunn was once a building business which built many notable buildings in northern Tasmania. One of my favourites is Launceston’s Customs House.
In this book, Quentin Beresford analyses the Gunns empire and its relationship with government. This is a case study in corruption and abuse of power, of ineffective governance and populist government. What has Tasmania (and the Commonwealth of Australia) learned from this experience? Could it happen again?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Fields of Glory
Fields of Glory
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘A knight should remember victories, not shameful disaster.’, Feb. 3 2016
This review is from: Fields of Glory (Kindle Edition)
In 1346, King Edward III of England is determined to prevail over the French. He’s had earlier victories, but the French have not yet been defeated. Chasing the French, allowing them to enjoin battle on their terms could be fatal. Instead, the English set up camp near Crecy, and wait.

This is a novel about the Battle of Crecy, told from the perspective of one unit of archers (called a vintaine, with twenty men) and their leader, Berenger Fripper. War is brutal and life is tough. Men join (or are forced to join) war for many reasons, and telling the story through the vintaine enables the reader to better appreciate this. Food is scarce, and the conditions are dreadful. But despite this, the archers at Crecy are able to deliver victory to Edward.

‘A horse could help them win victory, but one dead man was merely a corpse.

I remember learning about the events of the Hundred Years War from the perspective of the victors (naturally, they generally write the history) and what the victory meant to England. How that victory was won, the blood and sacrifice didn’t feature in my memory of that learning. Who the men were and the hardships they faced wasn’t part of the picture either. Michael Jecks’s novel bought the battlefield to life for me, enabled me to see the strategic advantage the archers had, and think about the experience of battle from an individual perspective. The members of this particular vintaine may be fictional, but the victory at Crecy was not. If you enjoy fast-paced historical fiction, grounded in fact, and can handle the graphic detail of violence associated with war, you may well enjoy this novel. I did.

This is the first novel in what will be a trilogy (the second ‘Blood on the Sand’ was first published in June 2015). I’ve read ‘Blood on the Sand’, and will now wait patiently for the third instalment.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

COFFIN ROAD
COFFIN ROAD
5 used & new from CDN$ 30.69

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The first thing I am aware of is the taste of salt.’, Feb. 3 2016
This review is from: COFFIN ROAD (Paperback)
A man returns to consciousness on a deserted beach. He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know who he is. A rebellious teenager, angry with her mother, wants to learn more about her father who died two years earlier. A police officer has to investigate a murder when a bludgeoned corpse is found on a remote island. Each of these people is searching for knowledge, for truth. Where will their journeys take them?

‘Since I have no past, I am without a present. And without a present I have no future.’

Gradually three separate stories unfold. Gradually we learn more about the man through the eyes of others. The different stories overlap as the man, the teenager and the police officer make progress on their separate investigations. Pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, but nothing is clear-cut until close to the end. Some puzzles can be solved in different ways, and it’s necessary to work through the possibilities to find the truth.

Who murdered the man on the island, and why? And what is the significance of the bees? I don’t think I can write more without introducing spoilers.

Amnesia, conspiracy and intrigue combine well in Mr May’s fast-moving crime thriller. As readers, we have just enough information to know that finding the truth (whatever it may be) could be dangerous to those seeking it. Powerful vested interests are under threat, and those protecting these interests are unlikely to balk at murder. Each new piece of knowledge adds to the risk. I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded, and found the ending (mostly) satisfying.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Golem and the Djinni
The Golem and the Djinni
4 used & new from CDN$ 16.05

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Again she felt that creeping sense of unreality, as though he’d merely stepped from a tale.', Jan. 28 2016
'As though none of this were truly happening.’

Two foreigners, in more than one sense of the word, emerge onto the streets of New York in 1899. The first is a golem from Danzig, a woman fashioned from clay as the wife of a man who dies as they travel across the ocean. The second is a djinni from the Syrian desert, trapped inside a copper flask until a routine repair by a tinsmith sets him free. In folklore, djinnis and golems are both powerful and vulnerable. The djinni is made of fire, his natural enemies are iron and water. The golem is docile, but incredibly strong. Both can live forever. And together?

‘..one night the Djinni crossed paths with a strange and astonishing woman, a woman made of clay.’

Neither the djinni, known as Ahmad nor the golem known as Chava require sleep. Both are fortunate to find employment and lodgings with people who accept them. Chava’s kindly rabbi is a gentle and generous soul. The djinni forms a partnership of sorts with the tinsmith.

Around the bare bones of the djinni and the golem Ms Wecker weaves a rich and complicated story. The djinni has a past, the golem has a creator. Both are in danger and both pose danger to others. Can they have a future?

‘The human mind is not meant to house a thousand years of memories.’

I loved this novel. I loved the way that Ms Wecker created and then bought together the golem, the djinni and the other characters who are part of the story. It takes a while to establish the various strands of the story and then to weave them together. Careful reading is necessary, there are complexities to the story that make their own perfect sense as the story unfolds.

This is Ms Wecker’s first novel: I hope that it’s not the last.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Long Bay
Long Bay
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Her first memories are fragments, scraps of fabric pieced together to make a whole.’, Jan. 27 2016
This review is from: Long Bay (Kindle Edition)
This novel starts with a letter from the Prison Comptroller to the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney. This letter, the inspiration for Ms Limprecht’s novel, advises the Hospital of the arrangements to be made for the admission of Rebecca Sinclair for the birth of her child. After the letter, in a prologue Rebecca’s admission to the hospital is described, and then her labour begins.

‘Tell him we have the upper hand and we could let the whole world know.’

With Chapter One, the novel returns to Rebecca’s childhood and the novel progresses chronologically. At this stage, I am hooked. Who is Rebecca Sinclair? Why is she in prison? And the baby? Slowly, the story unfolds. Rebecca lives with her widowed mother and sisters and they take in piece work in order to exist. Rebecca works hard, and then harder as her sisters leave home and her mother’s failing eyesight renders her incapable of finer needlework. Then, one day, she meets Donald Sinclair. Donald is the only son of Nurse Sinclair, an abortionist with a thriving trade in inner Sydney in the early twentieth century. Rebecca falls for Donald, but slowly becomes aware that he is not to be trusted. Donald likes money, but only the spending rather than the earning of it.

‘In this reflection she sees nothing of the girl with the blue silk, nothing of the young woman who read books and dreamt of finer things.’

Rebecca works with Donald’s mother for a while, but then Rebecca and Donald set up on their own. A woman dies, and Rebecca and Donald are charged with manslaughter. Rebecca’s story ends with her release from gaol.

Some novelizations of true stories do not work, sometimes the facts constrain the story. That wasn’t the case for me in this novel. I thought that Ms Limprecht imagined Rebecca’s life and challenges well. From the hardship faced by her mother, widowed with six children, to the role played by those willing to undertake abortions and the risks faced by those who underwent them, the story rang true for me. Perhaps Rebecca should have made different choices, certainly she seemed naïve and gullible at times. But what other options did she have? Leaving Donald had its own challenges.

‘The body, as we age, is like a map, she thinks – a map to read with my hands.’

I enjoyed this novel: it challenged me and made me think about some of the challenges of life for the poor, specifically for poor women, early last century.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Swimming with Jellyfish
Swimming with Jellyfish
by Vicki Hastvich
Edition: Paperback
3 used & new from CDN$ 2.27

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Do you ever go into the kitchen, purposefully because you’re busy, and open a cupboard door and suddenly you’re lost?’, Jan. 24 2016
This novel is set in a small Australian coastal town called Pocket Head. Pocket Head could be the kind of Australian coastal town where many of us have spent a summer holiday. We connect, fleetingly, with the locals to learn about fishing, swimming and shopping but we rarely get to know them. Lal, our narrator, knows everyone in Pocket Head, and we see each of them through her eyes. Lal herself is still coming to terms with the disappearance of her mother twenty years earlier, and is still searching answers, for some explanation for why her mother left and where she went.

‘What I know is something is better than nothing. When you grow up you have to face facts.’

This is a wonderful novel: full of idiosyncratic characters who somehow fit in perfectly in this small community. From Question Mark Man to the Vampire Bride (the local librarian), each of them reminds me of someone I might have known once, or met somewhere during my life. Lal’s husband Davey is larger than life, Bim Audette, the powerful and wealthy local hero, has an interest in local history, while his wife Barbara escapes to the city for window-shopping. Lal is observant and restless. Lal is sure that somewhere in Pocket Head are the answers she’s looking for. If she looks hard enough, and asks the right questions, she’s sure that the answers are there somewhere. Will she find them?

This is Ms Hastrich’s first novel (published in 2001) and I’m glad I read it. While Lal interested me, it was her descriptions of life in Pocket Head, her narration of both the mundane and the curious which held my attention.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Devil and King John
The Devil and King John
Prix : CDN$ 3.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘There is a devil in me at times, and it grips my hands, and uses them.’, Jan. 20 2016
King John of England (he reigned from 6 April 1199 to 19 October 1216) features in a number of novels, and is frequently depicted as a villain in television series and movies. I’ve not come across many novels with John as the main character, and was very keen to read this re-published novel by Philip Lindsay. ‘The Devil and King John’ was first published in 1951, and some of the language useage clearly reflects this. [Yes, Gentle Reader, ‘gay’ was once an adjective that referred only to happiness]

The novel follows John, from his time as ‘John Lackland’, favourite of his father King Henry II, through the reign of King Richard I, through his kingship.

In this novel Philip Lindsay has focussed on John’s beliefs – in the ‘Old Religion’ of witchcraft – as being behind his clashes with the Church after he becomes King. Was his first wife, Isabella, Countess of Gloucester (also known as Hadwisa) really a witch? Such a portrayal serves the plot of Mr Lindsay’s novel as it provides him with a connection between John and witchcraft. After his marriage to Hadwisa is annulled, John is depicted as being besotted by his second wife Isabella, Countess of Angoulême. But John can also be very cruel, the legacy perhaps of his famed Angevin temper.

At times I found myself feeling some sympathy for John: his being drawn to the ‘Old Religion’ provides a surprisingly plausible explanation (in fiction, at least) for some of his responses to the Church. And the Magna Carta? In this novel there are two sides to the argument over the Magna Carta. I have to think about that some more.

This is an interesting portrayal of John, and more sympathetic towards him than any other fictional account I’ve read.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Endeavour Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Skin Deep (Harry Hendrick Book 1)
Skin Deep (Harry Hendrick Book 1)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘This will only end when justice has been done.’, Jan. 18 2016
Harry Hendrick is a journalist in Brisbane. His career hasn’t quite followed the path he intended, damaged by a story he was following on corruption while he was still at university. Harry’s a good bloke, popular with his mates and easy to get along with. But he’s been unlucky in love, and has just broken up with his girlfriend and moved to a newly rented home. Not long after the move, Harry attends his mate Dave’s buck night. He wakes up with a hangover, and a tattoo on his neck with no recollection of obtaining it. Could it be just the consequences of a bad night out?

But more tattoos appear, and with the dreams about war-torn Afghanistan, boat people, bikies, bar fights and murder, Harry starts looking for answers. Where did the tattoos come from, and what do they mean? And who is the mysterious woman who has become part of the dream? He finds Jess McGrath, who also has unwanted tattoos and nightmares. What are the nightmares telling them? Who are the people appearing in their nightmares?

At the same time as Harry’s life is being taken over by tattoos and nightmares, there’s a federal election looming. Andrew Cardinal, the opposition leader, is tipped to have a landside win. There’s also a concerted local move to save an old water tower, which Harry investigates. The more Harry investigates, the more he becomes convinced that there are connections that need to be explored and he won’t be frightened off.

The pace of this novel kept me reading, suspending disbelief, accepting events that my logical self would reject as impossible. No time for this logic, though, I had to find out what would happen next. Mr Kemble has peopled his novel with some great characters and the city of Brisbane herself plays a starring role. The brutality of war, the power and corruption of politics seems sadly familiar.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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